I really loved my job. And then my boss walked in one day and informed me that I was being laid off. That was a little over three years ago. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but it’s what happened next that I most want to talk about.
Upon receiving the news that day, I felt confused, disoriented, shocked, lost. It was around 10:00am on a Wednesday morning, and after going to the same office every day for the past three years, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with the rest of my day. Or my week. Or my life. I guess I was just supposed to go home. But the reality hadn’t really sunk in yet, and I wasn’t quite ready to face my wife with the news.
So I left the office and meandered aimlessly up Broadway with no specific destination in mind. Before I realized it, maybe an hour or two, and 50 blocks, later I somehow ended up at 81st Street and Central Park West, right in front of the American Museum of Natural History. So I went in and just wandered around Africa and Asia for a while, then the Planetarium, before settling under the big Blue Whale.
It Starts with Perspective
But as I was leaving, as I took one last look up at a big dinosaur, something strange happened: a feeling of calm came over me. I gained a sudden sense of perspective that made the layoff seem as though it was not the worst thing in the world, and that is was time for the next phase of my career to begin. So I left the museum rejuvenated and recharged, with a clear head, a fresh perspective, and a renewed feeling of energy. And confidence – from the Latin for “with trust or faith” – that everything was going to be alright.
When you lose your job, or fail at a task, or even when you’re a freelancer out there all on your own, it’s so easy to lose your confidence. Without the support network of colleagues or the guidance of a boss, and other feedback mechanisms, it’s common to have feelings of self-doubt, vulnerability, loneliness, and fear. But confidence is so important that we need to do whatever it takes to get it back, because it’s hard to accomplish anything without it. As Henry Ford said: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
I’ve learned from experience over the years that confidence is often the key differentiator between those who succeed and those who don’t. Earlier in my career I learned the hard way that even though I possessed the knowledge and intelligence and experience, I lost out on a number of promotion opportunities simply because I lacked confidence. And it showed.
How to Get Your Groove Back
While there are a lot of different definitions of confidence, I like a simple one by Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter who defined it simply as “the expectation of a positive outcome.”
So what can you do to regain or maintain your confidence and increase your odds of a “positive outcome?” Here are five quick tips to keep in mind:
1. Build on your past successes and “keep your eyes on the prize.” Stay focused on your ultimate goal. Be ready, willing, and able to bounce back from adversity and set-backs when – not if – they happen. Resilience is key.
2. Leverage your strengths. Don’t dwell on your weaknesses or limitations. Be self-aware about — and make others aware of — what you have to offer.
3. Make everything a learning opportunity. Einstein said: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Be ready and willing to fail, learn, and move forward.
4. Seek out feedback and create a support network. Build your own personal Board of Advisors. Appreciate that feedback is a gift.
5. “Act as if.” Behave as you believe, and your belief will eventually become reality.
The Three Types of Confidence
Lastly, self-confidence is just one of what I call “The Three Types of Confidence”:
1. Self-Confidence: your belief in yourself.
2. Other-Confidence: your ability to make others feel confident in you (i.e., in your ability and in your potential to succeed).
3. Leader-Confidence: your ability to make others feel confident in themselves (and in their ability and potential to succeed).
Those who are most successful possess and exhibit all three types. But it all starts with Self-Confidence. It’s hard to instill confidence in others when we don’t feel confident in ourselves. It’s kind of like the airplane instructions where they tell you that in case of emergency you need to put your oxygen mask on first, before you can help others.
And keep it in mind that confidence is not a straight arrow, but a roller coaster. Even the most confident people experience nervousness and self-doubt at various times. Especially when pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone. The key to success is the ability to realize it and move past it.
Dos and Don’ts
So, finally, how can you be, act, and appear more confident, all while instilling confidence in others? Let’s start with a few “Don’ts”:
- Don’t waffle once a decision is made, as it creates confusion, uncertainty, doubt, and undermines others’ confidence in you.
- Don’t show hesitation, doubt, or ambivalence when defending or justifying your decision.
- Don’t change your mind without justification just because you’ve been challenged. Stand up for what you believe, but be open and willing to change if, after thinking about it, you truly believe that that’s the right thing to do.
- Don’t avoid making decisions when necessary or when required to do so; decide and move on. As Seth Godin always says: “You don’t need more time, you just need to decide.”
- Don’t procrastinate when it’s time to act. You’re never going to have ALL the information, so be willing to take action — with confidence — with only limited information.
- Don’t exhibit negativity. It creates a climate of pessimism, doom, despondency, doubt and fear in those who are looking to you for strength and leadership.
And, lastly, I’ll leave you with one “Do”:
- Do pay a visit to the American Museum of Natural History. Be sure to tell the brontosaurus that Todd said, “Hi, and thanks again!”
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
For more inspirational quotes to boost your confidence, click here. Let us know which ones you like the most, and share your own personal favorite with us!